Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The American Way

Some thoughts about the massacre of people at Ft Hood. President Obama was there today to eulogize the dead and injured and comfort the grieving. It's a real horror and tragedy, with a host of victims beyond the shot. Thirteen killed, with another 30 wounded by a gunman who was: a field grade officer in the Army, a psychiatrist, a Muslim. Guess what aspect of this guy focuses all the attention. Who knows, maybe the shooter, Maj Nidel Malik Hasan, is connected with terrorists. If that's the case, I'd sure hate to be named Muhamed or Hasan in any of the services, much less in the civilian population. 

But likely he's another product of the war-loving country we've become. Why are we shocked when the institutions to which we devote 57 percent of our national budget produce unreasoning violent people? Why should we be surprised that individuals we've sent repeatedly into war zones come home all bent out of shape? The killer here had not even been to Iraq or Afghanistan. He was slated to go, and apparently that's what sent him off the cliff. Obviously this guy was a nut case. Isn't anybody who guns down a bunch of unarmed strangers a nut case? But if you think about it, isn't blowing strangers away the whole business of the army?* And given that, just how likely is it that you're going to have horrific violence by servicemen returning from combat? Indeed, there's been an upsurge of such violence everywhere, and Fort Hood has not been immune. Ten suicides there so far this year. Domestic abuse, divorce, crime in the surrounding community: all are up. 

So there will be investigations, congressional hearings, several reports, grave pronoucements, and "corrective actions" in the wake of this event, but don't expect anything dramatic to happen to change the root causes of stuff like this. We're a violent people; we've been socialized that way, and our foreign policy ensures that we always have some war somewhere to keep us sufficiently blood-thirsty and xenophobic. It's the American way.

*The fact that enemies in war are also armed and trying to kill you is not the point. The point is there's a large spectrum of activities in which we kill people we don't know: war is on one end with mass murder somewhere in the middle. It's hardly arguable that war and mass murder don't share many characteristics.
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